Coeducation brought female students to Princeton, but it didn’t bring the first women. There have always been women connected with the institution. Nonetheless, coeducation did change the lives of the women who were already here. Esther Edwards Burr, Sarah Pierpont Edwards, and Isabella McCosh, wives of three Princeton presidents from earlier centuries, have all received historians’ attention as individuals, but the ways in which faculty wives as a group shaped and reshaped Princeton has not been fully explored. As Princeton celebrates its 50th anniversary year of undergraduate coeducation, it is worth looking back at some of the women who pushed hardest to end male-only hegemony: the ones who married the men who taught on Princeton’s campus.
It can be hard to uncover many of their names even now, as records are often found filed among their husbands’ papers in the University Archives or otherwise obscured by their scattered presence across diverse collections. The women who lived in town because of their husbands’ teaching careers at Princeton University did not always find the institution itself particularly welcoming to them, but they formed their own communities and found ways to pursue their own passions despite an environment they often described as outright hostile. Ultimately, Princeton University’s first regularly enrolled female student came from their ranks. Continue reading